OPINION: How does the U.S. come to play in the war in Ukraine?


Soldiers on patrol at the Simferopol airport in Crimea, a Ukrainian territory annexed by the Russians in 2014

Justin Farris

The conflict in Ukraine is threatening to boil over into an open land war in Europe. Russia is massing troops on the border, Russian-backed insurgents are getting more aggressive, and the US and EU may be sending troops to the western border. Why? To answer that, let’s look at some of the recent history of Ukraine.

Ukraine attempted to break away from Russia during the Russian civil war of 1917, but was defeated by the red army. Ukraine became one of the founding members of the Soviet Union, and remained a member until the Union dissolved in 1991, through famine and the second world war. Ukraine was granted Crimea from Russia, but, as throughout the Soviet Union, dissidents were repressed heavily. Ukraine struggled to recover after the fall of the Union, and was soon crippled by the 2008 economic crash. 

The current Ukraine crisis dates back to around 2013, when former president Viktor Yanukovych suspended plans for an association agreement with the European Union. He was then overthrown by a revolution in 2014, angering the Pro-Russian factions in the country. The situation continued to escalate, as after a referendum, Russia bloodlessly annexed Crimea, a peninsula in Southern Ukraine, and Pro-Russia rebels began a bloody civil war in the east of the country. Since then, Russia has been supplying the Ukrainian rebels with military equipment.

It’s now looking like things might heat up even more. Russia has massed between 100,000 and 130,000 troops near Ukraine, and has accused the United States of driving up tensions in the region. Russia did not want Ukraine to join the EU- they wanted Ukraine to join a trade coalition including Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, and prevent them from deepening ties with Western Europe. This conflict has been ongoing for a while, but it looks like a full annexation might be in the works. It’s not ludicrous to suggest that maybe Russia wants back some of the territory it lost when the Union dissolved.

But why do we, in the US, care? Good question. For one, Russia may no longer be communist, but it is certainly still America’s rival. America and Russia have backed different sides in the Syrian civil war and split on Ukraine since the crisis began. For two, Ukraine is now tying itself to the EU, and the EU includes both other members of NATO and many trade partners of the United States. An attack on Ukraine might lead to pressure from America’s international allies. For three, Ukraine is a democracy. It may be a struggling democracy, one that has overthrown multiple leaders, but the democratic system and ideals have managed to survive that. At least to a lot of Americans, that means something- the struggling democracy standing its ground against a much larger foe. Of course, things in the real world are never that simple, but Ukraine has stood firm against Russia for years. They could be a powerful ally against Russia. In addition, Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs Dmytro Kuleba has said “We have never requested American boots here on the ground. We don’t need your boots on the ground, but help us to fight this war diplomatically, militarily.”

Ukraine is a democracy. It’s goals align with our own. They do not ask for Americans to fight for them, only provide diplomatic support, and, if necessary, military equipment. Perhaps this is a place where the United States can make an ally, and curb Russian attempts to take over independent countries without consequences.

Featured image “VOA-Crimea-Simferopol-airport” by Elizabeth Arrott is licensed under Public Domain.